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Lysacek matches Weir after free skate, takes U.S. title on tiebreak

1/27/2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- They were minor things, really. A change
of edge here, a more difficult setup to a jump there.

When the skaters are as equally good as Evan Lysacek and Johnny
Weir, though, those little details determine who gets the gold and
who has to settle for silver.

Lysacek won his second straight crown at the U.S. Figure Skating
Championships on Sunday, despite finishing with the same score as
Weir. The two -- who have combined to win the last five U.S.
crowns -- both finished with 244.77 points. But Lysacek won the free
skate, 162.72 to 161.37, and that's the tiebreaker.

Stephen Carriere, last year's world junior champion, was third
with 228.06 points.

"That's awesome, actually, to have not one person but two
people [that close] in the same event,'' Lysacek said. "You put
any top skater in the world in that competition today, and they would
have had tough time beating either one of us. I'm happy to be part
of such a strong field and proud as well.''

Weir has every reason to be proud, too. His performance at last
year's nationals was such a disappointment -- he dropped to third
with a poor free skate -- that he uprooted his entire life. He
switched coaches and cities, now training in New Jersey with Galina
Zmievskaya, who coached Olympic gold medalists Viktor Petrenko and
Oksana Baiul.

"I'm very happy with my performance and happy that I could show
the work that I've put in,'' he said. "The scoring, first, second
place -- it really doesn't matter. I'm just happy with the way I
skated.''

And just wait until next year. Odds are, these two will be at it
again.

"If you were scripting this whole deal, you probably couldn't
have done any better job than this,'' Lysacek said.

Lysacek and Weir's back-and-forth is one of the best things
going in skating. Fans may love figure skating's prettiness, but
nothing gets more attention than a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

NBC, in its first year broadcasting the national championships,
sure did its part to hype it up. But Lysacek and Weir say the
rivalry stops at the boards. They may not be friends, but they're
not enemies, either.

"No, no, definitely not,'' Weir said. "He's just my biggest
competitor.''

Added Lysacek, "I think he's a great skater. He has pushed me
and I'd like to think I've pushed him. I'm not going to say
anything bad about him. I admire him.''

Beating him, too, these days.

Weir won the U.S. title from 2004-06, while Lysacek was winning
a pair of bronze medals at the world championships. But Lysacek has
had the edge at home recently, now winning the last two U.S.
titles.

"My reaction this year is so much different than last year,''
Lysacek said. "Last year, I was so excited. I'd climbed on top of
the mountain I'd been working toward for so long. This year I feel
more relief. I worked so hard, went through so much and I'm sad to
say, I'm a little bit happy it's over.''

The weight of the expectations was evident. Skating to
"Tosca,'' he didn't have his usual sharpness or precision, and
until his last two sections of footwork, his free skate lacked his
usual emotion.

He landed his quadruple toe loop jump on two feet, and needed to
do a turn before the triple toe that's supposed to be a
combination. He wasn't very secure on the landings of either of his
triple axels, too, though he held on to both of them.

"I wasn't terribly happy with the quad tonight,'' coach Frank
Carroll said. "It is a difficult thing to do under pressure. But
if you don't start doing it now, what are you going to do the last
year [before the Olympics]?''

Lysacek did end his program strong. Four of his elements -- two
jump combinations and a triple lutz and double axel -- came after
the halfway mark, which earn bonus points. His straight-line
footwork is filled with intricate steps and kicks and fast hops and
turns, and it always gets a nice reaction from the crowd. Sunday
was no different.

Fans were cheering and clapping before his music even finished,
and Lysacek pumped his fist in satisfaction.

"I think I performed with every ounce of energy I had inside of
me, so that I'm proud of,'' Lysacek said. "We're trying such
difficult stuff and, for me, I've worked so hard this year to have
difficult entrances and exits into jumps that they're rarely perfect.

"That's the name of the game now, fighting for every single
point. It's actually a good thing the sport is about, and it's not
just recital where you show up and do it. You go out and fight.''

But because he hadn't been perfect, he'd left room for Weir.
Only 1.35 points separated the two after the short program, so
whoever won Sunday's free skate would be the champion.

The two were evenly matched in jumps -- both two-footed their
quads and did seven triples. But Weir also landed his triple flip
on two feet, and had simpler entrances to his jumps.

Weir also didn't skate with his usual intensity. When he's on,
he is one of the most majestic skaters in the world, with a natural
gift for wringing every ounce of emotion out of a program.

But he seemed to be more about business in both his short and
long programs, skating as if he was crossing one thing after
another off a mental checklist. He still had his usual elegance,
but not his fire.

His shoulders shook with sobs when he finished, and he briefly
dropped to one knee. A few minutes later, he'd dropped to second.

"I was as close as possible to getting [the title] back again.
I'm proud of that,'' Weir said. "You want to say, 'Yeah, it's a
competition and you go for first or second place,' but this is my
life. I live my life on an ice rink.

"For me at times first and second place isn't so important. If
I'm happy with my performance, that's it.''